How To Deal With Wandering
Wandering or pacing is a common behavior of persons with memory loss and confusion (also called dementia) caused by diseases such as Alzheimer's, Stroke, Parkinsons and HIV. This is acceptable as long as the person wanders or paces during the day in a safe environment. Wandering can help relieve anxiety and restlessness and may serve as exercise. Problems occur when the person wanders away from home or wanders at night. Nearly 60% of the four million Americans with Alzheimer's disease wander off and get lost sometime during the course of the disease.
- Reducing opportunities to drive. If your care receiver tries to drive when wandering, lock up the car keys or disable the car so it won't start. Keeping keys and other trigger items such as coats, shoes, glasses, and purses out of sight may reduce wandering outside. Persons with dementia have been known to wander hundreds of miles in cars, airplanes, and vehicles that belong to someone else. For more information on resources that can provide an assessment of driving skills, see Stage One, section 7.
- Home Security. Use doorknobs that prevent your care receiver from opening the door. Place locks on windows and gates and consider electronic alarms or chimes on doors. Try placing locks at a height either above or below the person's eye level. Block access to stairs or outdoors with safety gates. Dark, solid color mats or rugs in front of doors or a two-foot painted threshold in front of the door may be perceived as a hole to be avoided. Use soft lighting at night to reduce confusion. Put a picture of a toilet on the bathroom door and use a line of colored tape on the floor to mark the path from bedroom to bathroom. Other doors may be labeled with symbols explaining the purpose of each room. Put dangerous chemicals, matches, knives, and scissors away. Move low furniture that the person may not see. A pressure-sensitive mat at the person's bedside or in front of doors with alarm heard only by the caregiver may help. The Complete Guide to Alzheimer's Proofing Your Home by Mark L. Warner, copyright 2000 by Ageless Design, may be helpful. Visit their Internet web site, www.agelessdesign.com, which links to www.alzstore.com. The Alzheimer's Store web site sells products such as alarms and stovetop fire extinguishers.
- Providing for needs. Monitor needs such as hunger, thirst, exercise, and bathroom use. Provide opportunities for singing, dancing, and taking a walk outside during the day. If nighttime wandering is a problem, limit daytime naps if possible and reduce fluid intake in the evening. Make sure your care receiver goes to the bathroom just before bedtime.
- Distraction. Redirect your care receiver's attention by offering a favorite food or drink, involving him or her in a conversation or activity, or joining your care receiver found wandering outside to guide him or her back home.
- Insure safe outside environment. Inspect the backyard. Make sure the fence is secure. Keep backyard paths clear, trim shrubs, and put yard tools and chemicals away. Make sure that there are no dangers, such as access to a pool or lake.
- Preparation for new environments. Prior to a move, help get your care recipient oriented to the new environment by making several visits. Be aware that wandering may occur in any unfamiliar place such as on trip to visit relatives. Be extra observant when in a different environment.
- Effect of medications. Sometimes medications cause restlessness. Check with your care receiver's doctor. Also, if needed, ask the doctor about medications to help someone with dementia relax.
- Being objective. Don't take your care receiver's wandering behavior personally. He or she may be trying to make sense in a world that no longer seems predictable. This could mean trying to meet former obligations involving a job or home, friend or relative. Sites and sounds may be misinterpreted. Some patients are affected more at certain times of the day. Some are more confused in the evening, a symptom called "sundowning". Changes in the weather, drinking alcohol, and feeling useless or helpless may also contribute to wandering.
Resources to help locate a person who wanders
There are resources that you can get now so that you have help to find a person if they wander. They range in scope and cost.
- The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office offers Project Lifesaver to families and caregivers of persons with Alzheimer's and other conditions that may increase their tendency to wander. The client wears a wristband that emits a tracking signal. If they wander away, the caregiver is able to call 9-1-1 to activate a search. The signal enables the search teams to locate the person, and the average recovery time is less than 30 minutes. There is a cost for the program. Call 727-582-6806 or go to http://www.pcsoweb.com/pages/project_lifesaver for more information.
- The Alzheimer's Association also offers a GPS based program called Comfort Zone. It is a "location management service that uses the internet and a GPS device to track and monitor the location of a person with Alzheimer's Disease. Family members can monitor a person's location.." There is a cost for this program. Call the Alzhiemer's Association for more information.
- The Alzheimer's Association offers a nationwide Safe Return Program that provides an identification bracelet or necklace with a toll-free number that police can call to report a person once they are found. Safe Return faxes information about lost persons to the local law enforcement department. There is a registration fee. To register by phone, call toll-free 1-888-572-8566. . The Alzheimer's Association Florida Gulf Coast Chapter (formerly Tampa Bay Chapter) also has a registration form on their web site, http://www.alz-tbc.org, or call their toll-free number, 1-800-772-8672. There is a registration fee.
- See Stage One, section 7: Driving Assessment in this Handbook for help in making the decision of whether to take away the keys.
- Call the Senior Helpline for transportation options and resources. Find "Transportation Options" online at www.agingcarefl.org/aging/transportation.
To access the services or programs described in the Handbook, call The Senior Helpline at 1-800-96-ELDER, (1-800-963-5337). For inquiries from outside of the area call 727-217-8111.